The following professional development activities were implemented at The International School of Tanganyika in order to further a school culture that encouraged teachers to be reflective practitioners.
- Cognitive Coaching: Developed by Art Costa and Bob Garmston, Cognitive Coaching is an intellectually stimulating framework for promoting and improving adult to adult reflective professional interaction. The principles upon which Cognitive Coaching is based are drawn from recent developments in learning theory, cognitive and social psychology, and research on how the brain works. At IST, teachers are provided with training and practice in peer observation and with strategies that build rapport and enable them to give and receive non-threatening, but probing, feedback. In order to implement Cognitive Coaching on a school-wide basis, IST hosted an initial visit by both Art Costa and Bob Garmston during which they conducted a weeklong introductory workshop. Over the course of the next four years, Bob Garmston returned to IST twice more to conduct follow up workshops and to support this initiative towards reflective practice. An excellent introduction to the work of Costa and Garmston is CognitiveCoaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools, by Arthur L.Costa and Robert J. Garmston (1994).
- Individual Reflective Practices: Over the past decade, teachers at IST have been encouraged to engage in individual reflective practices such as keeping a professional journal or portfolio and periodically sharing selected contents with a trusted colleague.
In 1996, IST formalized the expectation that all teachers would develop and maintain a professional portfolio. The initial reaction to this initiative was mixed with a number of the early problems attributable to a lack of clear guidance. During the second year, a working party of teachers and administrators was established which wrote definitions of crucial terms, developed a clear set of portfolio objectives and devised a recommended portfolio structure and format.
A major milestone was reached when this committee defined the three dimensions of portfolios at IST as focus, organization and growth. "Portfolios," the committee wrote, "are focused and organized collections of artifacts that demonstrate the professional growth of the teacher or administrator." IST staff found these three dimensions most useful. It became abundantly clear that a portfolio was not simply a grab-bag assortment of classroom flotsam and jetsam. The teacher was responsible for selecting a focus for the portfolio. Some teachers targeted generic areas such as "lesson pacing" or "checking for conceptual understanding" while others selected content specific topics such as "Using Graphing Calculators in IB Math Studies". Once the focus had been selected, the teacher then organized the artifacts in such a way as to demonstrate adult learning and professional growth. Portfolios that merely "showcased" a teacher's accomplishments did not meet the "growth" expectation.
After four years, a number of teachers were producing exemplary portfolios. (They tended to be the younger teachers who were already familiar with portfolios from their teacher training at university). Some other teachers and administrators continued to go through the motions of portfolio development without engaging in significant or meaningful reflection. The most commonly cited impediment to the development of professional portfolios was a perceived "lack of time". As Eisner (1998) writes: "Efforts to encourage teachers to engage in reflective teaching are likely to be feckless if teachers have no time during the school day for reflection (p.167)".
- Co-taught Graduate Level Courses: It has been fairly common to find U.S. universities sending professors overseas to international schools to teach on-site graduate level courses. The College of New Jersey and Michigan State University have been pioneers in this area. However, at IST we perceived this model as perpetuating the "visiting expert" syndrome that characterized the transmittal model of professional development and lacked the external feedback loops that serve to improve the quality of the programs in both institutions (Lambert, 1998).
Our thinking was significantly influenced by Roland Barth's (1990) excellent book Improving Schools From Within, particularly the chapter entitled "Between School and University". Barth criticizes most so-called university-to-school "partnerships" as not real partnerships at all but rather mono-directional transmittal of information from the university to the school. In this model the university has been seen as the domain of theory and the schoolhouse the arena of practice. "To suggest that theory is the province of the university as practice is of schools sets up a caste system that, by anointing some, insults all of us (p.107)." In wrestling with the question of how schools and universities can become more genuinely collaborative, Barth proposes that a more "promising means for academics to contribute to the improvement of our nation's schools is by helping school teachers and principals clarify and reveal their own rich thinking about good schools. Making craft knowledge visible dignifies and benefits the individual, other school people, and schools (p.110, emphasis mine)". Barth challenges us to remove school teachers and university professors from the "typecasting that so severely limits and strains our work together (p.107)."
In order to move in the direction of a more genuine partnership, IST entered into a relationship with The State University of New York College at Buffalo (Buffalo State). Buffalo State agreed to send a visiting professor to IST to teach a graduate level course and IST agreed to provide a teacher volunteer who would co-plan and co-teach the course. The IST co-teacher received all course material, readings etc. at least three months in advance and then the co-planning proceeded by e-mail. The professor brought to the course a thorough grounding in relevant content and research, while the IST co-teacher brought an intimate knowledge of our specific school environment and first hand classroom experience.
While the university-to-school partnership with Buffalo State is still in its infancy (five co-taught graduate level courses have been offered to date), the model appears to offer considerable promise.
- Action Research: In 1996, IST implemented a teacher action research program. The program was designed to encourage teachers to collaborate with other teachers in order to undertake research in their own classrooms. The purpose of the project was to stimulate professional reflection by encouraging staff members to take on a more intellectual role in understanding and improving their own teaching practice.
In the IST Research Fellowship Program up to four teachers per year have applied for fellowships to conduct research in their classrooms. The fellowships have carried with them a stipend of $1000 each. Fellowship applications have been screened by an Editorial Board of teaching and administrative colleagues against pre-determined criteria (quality, relevance, value to the school, international context, feasibility and originality).
The approved Research Fellows were then assigned two coaches from the Editorial Board who provided support and guidance throughout the course of the project. More often than not the coaches had themselves been through Costa and Garmston's Cognitive Coaching workshops. The Research Fellows were then required to prepare a research report on their findings which was edited for publication in IST's professional journal Finding Our Voices: A Journal of Effective Teaching Practice. Research projects varied enormously - ranging from a case study of an exceptional child in an inclusive elementary setting to an analysis of the emotional impact of expatriation in secondary school students to a full blown, experimentally designed evaluation of a morphographic spelling program. For the past four years, the Editorial Board has received increasing numbers of applications and each year the professional journal has grown in length, quality, number of contributors and readership.
- Innovative Teaching Grants: IST also offers up to a maximum of ten, small ($200) innovative teaching grants each year. The grants were offered to encourage, support, and recognize creativity, imagination, research and appropriate risk taking in the delivery of the educational program in the classroom. Funds could be used for special materials, equipment, in-service and/or workshops. These small grants were a source of enormous creativity and produced outstanding results. For example, a fourth grade class studied and then actually constructed the houses of different tribes in Tanzania and the entire 7th grade, with all of its wonderfully diverse exceptional learners, created an original opera company.
- Professional Book Club: In order to promote the idea of teacher learning teams (Hill & Crevola, 1999), IST initiated a professional book club in which any teacher could purchase books related to the field of education at a very significantly subsidized price (in May 1999 the school was charging the teachers only 25% of the publisher's retail price). The only condition on the purchase was that the teacher agreed to join a discussion/study group of colleagues on that particular book. The up-take for the Professional Book Club was such that in the second year of its existence a request had to be made for increased funding.
- Visits/Consultancies to Other Schools: As one of the larger international schools in Africa, IST was often called upon to share its expertise with smaller schools in more remote locations. This sharing often took place under the AISA Consultant Pool Program or the AISA Teachers-Helping-Teachers Scheme. The consultant services covered a broad range of topics including Early Childhood program development, special education initiatives and writing specific content curricula. Each consultancy provided a rich opportunity for our teachers to gain distance from their daily work and to reflect upon both content and craft practice. The same holds true for having teachers serve on Visiting Accreditation Teams to other schools, a practice openly encouraged at IST.
- Publication of a Professional Journal: As our good friend and colleague, Elisabeth Wiig, is fond of saying: "If your thoughts are not in writing, they remain in the ether." Eisner (1998) agrees:
First it is important to recognize that there is nothing so slippery as athought. The great articles and books I have written - on my way to work or just before rising in the morning - come and go with a flick of an eyelid. The process of externalization is a process of stabilization. Working with a form of representation provides the opportunity to stabilize what is ephemeral and fleeting. It gives students (and teachers) an opportunity to hold onto their thinking. This "holding onto" provides a second important benefit. Thoughts in one's head are difficult to edit, but thoughts on paper...can be edited. Editing allows one to refine one's thinking, to make it clearer, more powerful, and, not least, to appreciate the happy results of creativity. It allows one to confer a personal signature to a public product. (p. 27)."
Simply put, no professional development activity has as much potential for promoting reflection as writing. The business of translating the wonderful cacophony of our thoughts to crafted, clarified and refined prose and then sharing that writing through publication is professional development at its greatest maturity.
At the same time, there is probably no activity in all the repertoire of adult learning that is as risky. (An excellent analysis of the obstacles and rewards of professional writing is contained in Barth's (1990) chapter entitled "Practice to Prose".) Nevertheless, the process of encouraging teacher reflective writing is manifestly worth the effort. The satisfaction that it brings, on both a personal and professional level, is nothing short of transformational.
Initially as part of the Research Fellowship Program, IST launched the publication of an annual journal of teachers' professional writing. The journal was not limited to the research reports of the Fellows but also included other reflective and anecdotal pieces on craft practice and pedagogy. The response from the teachers was unequivocal. In the first year of publication, the Editorial Board received more submissions than it could publish and they have increased in each subsequent year. Even more exciting was the fact that most of the submissions were of a high standard. It was as though a significant number of teachers had just been waiting for an opportunity to write and share their wealth of experience and insights.
The journal is entitled Finding Our Voices: A Journal of Effective Teaching Practices and it is published in the June of each year. It is distributed to international schools and educational organizations worldwide. Copies can be requested from The International School of Tanganyika Ltd., P.O. Box 2651, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.